My last article in the Leader/Manager/leader Essential Skills series identified delegation as a foundational management and leadership skill. In organizational terms it is the transfer of authority and responsibility to another. In its truest form it isn’t about empowering others. It is simply passing on tasks for others to do. I pointed out that delegation is about teamwork and conscientious intent and not off-loading tasks willynilly. This article will explore the thorny question about how much authority does the manager/leader delegate and who is ultimately held accountable.
How much authority is necessary?
How much authority do you transfer to others during the delegation process? The short answer: it depends on the capabilities of the delegatee. The more capable the delegatee, the more authority one delegates; and conversely the less capable, the less authority one delegates. To help sort this out let’s consider four levels of delegated authority with the first being the highest.
Level 1: Do it.
The “Do It” level assumes the individual has the skills and capabilities of carrying out the delegated task. Here the manager/leader genuinely passes on his authority to the individual. The manager/leader trusts the individual and is confident that she can and will carry out the assigned task. This first level is usually attributed to those who are well experienced, professional in their approach, and have consistently performed well.
Level 2: Do it and tell me later.
There is a bit of testing going at this level. The manager/leader allows the individual to complete the task but wants to know what was done and how it was done to ensure that the task was done right and that the individual gets the right result. The manager/leader is not sure the individual is fully capable of doing the job but is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Another process is also at work here, that of experimentation and learning.
In the case of experimentation, the delegatee may complete the task and achieve the right result. However, she may not have done it in the same way that the manager/leader would have done it. “How” the person did it was different than “how” the manager/leader would have done it. That does not make it wrong. In fact, in many instances the delegatee’s “how” is often an improvement on the manger’s “how.” The manager/leader can then compliment the delegate for a job well done and in turn learn from the process herself.
Now let’s take the other situation, where the delegatee completes the task but doesn’t get the right result. In this case the “how” used may be incorrect or the individual may not be fully capable of carrying out the task. Here the manager/leader can review the process with the individual in a supportive way and together sort out the better “how.” The manager/leader moves into a coaching or mentoring role, maintains the person’s confidence and dignity, while engaging the individual in a learning process.
Level 3: Plan it but check with me before you do it.
In this case the manager/leader is not sure whether the individual can do the task. The manager/leader wants the individual to develop the skill sets to complete the task, but also wants to ensure the individual has thought through the process and expected outcome.
The approach to Level 3 is what I call “Guided Performance Development.” Engaging the individual by having her plot out “how” she intends to “achieve the result” is somewhat of a delicate process. Sometimes the task is given to the individual in advance and the manager/leader asks her to think about the task and come back to discuss it; other times it is presented with an immediate request about how the individual intends to proceed and what results she expects.
As in level 2, the manger becomes the coach. The coach does not “tell” the individual “how” to complete the task, but asks questions like: “How do you think you should proceed with this task? Why do you think this will work? How much time do you think it will take? What results do you expect?”
There should be give and take in these discussions allowing the individual to come to their own conclusions, while at the same time, giving the manager/leader an opportunity to provide guidance toward a positive outcome. Notice that the questions are open-ended and not directive. The whole exercise is about learning, improving and developing performance.
Level 4: Consult with me before you plan it.
At this level the manager/leader wants to ensure that the individual has the skills and capabilities before delegating the authority to do the job.
This is the lowest level of delegated authority, and usually occurs when a new person comes on stream. Trust between the manager/leader and the individual hasn’t solidified yet, and there is little experience about the person’s knowledge and skill capacity. Essentially the manager/leader is testing for this. The manager/leader wants to ensure the individual is clear about the task, the time lines and what is expected. The difference in this case is that the discussion takes place before any planning takes place. Depending on the learning style of the individual, the manager/leader may use a “show and tell” approach – this is how you complete this task, and this is what you can expect - or, she may use open-ended questions as identified in level 3 above.
The learning approach manager/leader uses presupposes that she has some understanding about the learning style of the individual, that is, the individual best learns from “show or tell” or from a more “indirective” approach with someone who has “self-learning” capabilities.
A manager/leader may also use level 4 with an experienced employee. Usually this is a situation which is new, complicated, untried and the manager/leader may not clearly understand how to proceed. Here the manager/leader may want to brainstorm different approaches with the individual, and then let her carry it forward. Again, learning and experimentation take place. In this case there is a high degree of trust between the manager/leader and the individual based on past performance.
“Delegation provides the perfect example of how to win the demands of getting the job done with the business of providing opportunities for learning and development. The trick is to get double mileage out of something you already have to do. (Source unknown)
What about accountability?
Ultimately the manager/leader remains accountable for the delegated task. Manager/leaders should delegate in such a way that the person feels accountable and behaves like she is accountable. However, as President Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here,” which means the buck stops with the manager/leader. If the manager/leader wants the delegatee to be fully accountable, then she needs to redesign the job description. When the manager/leader delegates, she needs to define accountability so that there is no doubt where it lies and what it covers. Here’s how:
If you are reluctant to delegate there are 11 self-evaluation statements that may give you some insight as to why you may be reluctant. Find the statements by clicking on PDF file below.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC
Notes: The terms leader/manager or manager/leader are used interchangeably in these articles. In the normal course of events within an organization people assigned to a management or a leadership role call upon the skills ascribed to both leader and manager. There are times when the person leads, and other times when he manages; and other times when he leads and manages at the same time. When one steps into a management position, management skills are primarily required. When the person moves into a more senior position, leadership skills come more to the fore. The focus of this series is on the “essential” or “foundational” skills required for one moving into a management or leadership role. Hence the term leader/manager or manager/leader is used.
I also try to make my articles gender neutral. However, for clarity sake I use the first-person pronoun but you can apply any gender to the article.
An Essential Manager/Leader Skills article. The term leader/manager or manager/leader is used interchangeably. In the normal course of events within an organization people assigned to a management or a leadership role call upon the skills ascribed to both leader and manager. There are times when the person leads, and other times when he manages; and other times when he leads and manages at the same time. When one steps into a management position, management skills are primarily required. When the person moves into a more senior position, leadership skills come more to the fore. The focus of this series is on the “essential” or “foundational” skills required for one moving into a management or leadership role. Hence the term leader/manager or manager/leader is used.
Delegation is an essential management and leadership skill. In organizational terms it is the transfer of authority and responsibility to another. In its truest form it isn’t about empowering others. It is simply passing on tasks for others to do. In brief, delegation is something you “do” to people, whereas empowerment is something people do for “themselves.” Empowerment is more of an intrinsic act and involves taking increasing ownership through self-actualization and initiative. We delegate tasks and the authority to do the tasks; we empower employees to take initiative to complete tasks without delegating them.
A major cause of poor time management and stress management is often a leader/manager’s unwillingness or inability to delegate responsibility to employees. Delegation allows leader/managers to: concentrate on their overall responsibilities, focus on critical opportunities, motivate others, and get the job done. Simply put it is getting the job done through the efforts of others. It’s all about developing and supporting strong teamwork.
A leader/manager has a job to do which is bigger than what she can achieve alone. Therefore, she needs to delegate it to someone on the team. Dr. Peter Honey, a well-respected Occupational Psychologist, points out in his book 101 Ways of Developing People Without Really Trying, when a leader/manager delegates she balances two important factors:
1. The responsibilities or tasks someone else completes on the leader/manager’s behalf; and
2. The authority (or powers) given to the person to carry out the responsibilities.
When the delegator focuses attention on delegating responsibilities (the first factor), there is greater potential for development of the person's skills and abilities. The first course of action for the delegator is to match the individual's capabilities with the delegated tasks. Secondly, when the delegator sees an opportunity to encourage development, she delegates responsibilities that require the person to stretch his capabilities. In this instance, the delegator needs to watch that she doesn’t put the delegated task out of reach of the person’s skill level.
The second factor means the delegator needs to 'let go' and give the individual authority to complete the job without further assistance from the delegator. This allows for authentic delegation and gives an equal blending of the two factors. Now let’s clarify the delegation process.
The Delegation Process
Delegation just doesn’t happen. It is a conscious effort on the part of a leader/manager to get work done. What I found during my coaching sessions was leader/manager uncertainty about how to delegate appropriately. For many of them they just dumped stuff onto to their employees, and others got some aspects of delegation right but lacked consistency. Here are five steps to delegation which should help clarify the process.
1. Sort out the tasks you wish to delegate and define them. Here you are seeking clarity about the tasks you need to complete and the time line in which you need to complete them. The definition of the task is important as it reduces confusion going forward. Often tasks are delegated without clarity. An example of this is when the manager places something on the desk of one of his team members and says, “Will you do this?” without explaining what “this” is, and without giving any indication when the task is expected to be completed. Whenever possible the best time to sort out the tasks is 15 minutes before you leave the office or the night before. This way you can get your work moving first thing in the morning.
2. Identify the delegatee. When you consider who you want to delegate the task to, keep in mind the skill level of the individual. You are asking yourself this simple question, “can the individual do the job you are asking him to do?” If not, then further clarification is required. Sometimes things don’t get done because the individual doesn’t know how to do them and is afraid to ask. So, if you don’t know you need to ask the individual if he can complete the task. If the person doesn’t know how to complete the task this becomes a learning opportunity. If the person does know, then delegate. However, be careful about delegating tasks only to those who know, as those that don’t will never learn. Also, watch whether you delegate only to those located close to you. If you consistently do this, you may lose an opportunity to develop your team members who work in other locations.
3. Set the priorities and time frame for completion. A practice many managers have is what I call stacking – stacking delegated work on people’s desks without setting priorities and time frames for the work. It goes something like this: “will you do this?” and a bit later, “here’s another one for you,” and an hour later another one lands on the desk. Then the manager comes back and says, “have you got this done?” What should the manager do in these cases? Whenever possible she should delegate all the known tasks at one time, set the priorities and the time frames for completion. This allows the delegatee to plan their workload, set their own priorities and work on their most important task. During the day, however, tasks do pop-up without warning. In these situations, make sure the task is important and urgent, communicate this to the person, and set a time for its completion.
4. Let go, Monitor, Revise when necessary, and Encourage. Once the task is delegated and you are confident the delegatee can do the work – you need to let it go. Allow the person to do the work. You are delegating “what” needs to be done, and not “how” it should be done – unless the delegatee doesn’t have the skills to do the job. Letting go allows the delegatee to develop, test abilities, and initiate a different way of getting the job done. This latter is an important concept as often the delegatee has a better way of doing things than the manager. If you have concerns about the skill level, monitor the delegatee by checking back periodically but don’t interfere with the work. Allow growth to take place. Encourage and develop rather than control and seek perfection.
5. Review upon completion. Once the task is completed by the delegatee and the work is back on your desk, or a report is provided to you that the job is done, then it’s time to assess performance. A job well done deserves praise. A job that isn’t, requires more work on your part. Before blame (which should never be part of the review) comes self-assessment. Did you carry out the first four steps in the process correctly? If you did, you should have caught problems before the completion of the task. If you were allowing the person to make mistakes, then the question that needs to be explored is “what did you learn from the experience?” and “how can you improve next time.” It is all about developing team members and giving them room to grow in place and time.
Note: My next article will explore the concepts of delegated authority and accountability. In the meantime, review the five steps of the delegation process and apply the relevant ones to your practice.
Thanks for reading,
Author: Richard P. Fontanie
When we step into a manager's role we usually do so without any preparation about how to become a manager. Somehow by the process of osmosis we are expected to "fit" the position. We may have been excellent employees and shown potential leadership qualities with our colleagues, customers or bosses; but, just because we were excellent employees doesn't mean that we will become successful managers.
We study to become engineers, nurses, social workers, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, electricians (we can keep adding to the list) and through application we become skilled at what we do. Our learning, both formal and informal, is all about our profession or craft and how to apply our skills to the task at hand. We were not taught how to become managers or leaders. Unfortunately, some of us take on a management role when we should have remained in our previous position because that is where we were most comfortable, satisfied and successful.
There are many reasons why employees move into management positions. They could include: the desire to obtain higher wages, more power and influence, or transform systems and processes, or improve team work. In some instances, employees are approached to move up the ladder by a senior manager or employer. Whatever the reason, employees should be prepared for the role, choose it for the right reason, and be aware of their strengths and shortcomings. They need to be prepared for the challenges they will face which require different thinking, focus, perspective, relationships, skills and an added attribute called "art".
Excellent employees pay attention to continuous learning revolving around their occupation. Successful companies ensure their employees are skilled at what they do and invest in courses and programs to that end. When they move into a management role, learning shifts from specific job-related skills to a much broader sphere. Their thinking caps move from the specific technical aspects of their job to the more conceptual requirements of the organization. They now need more knowledge about developing strategies, managing resources, measuring outcomes, and improving products and services. Their thinking role is transformed from job specialization to employee and team development in keeping with the business's overall strategic direction.
Communicating, influencing, coordinating, motivating, setting goals, managing self, delegating, critical decision-making and problem solving, planning, organizing, managing change, and controlling become critical skill sets for a manager. These skills are applied by engaging employees in finding solutions to different company and customer situations, advancing company policy and values, resolving people problems, building and strengthening teams, and negotiating with internal and external stakeholders. What employees now need is a much more expansive set of skills that go beyond specific on-the-ground work.
The relationship with his former co-workers also change as the employee steps into a management position. Many managers try to maintain the same “buddy” relationship they had with their former fellow employees after they step into their new role. This often poses problems for them, especially when they need to enforce unpopular company policy, manage poor performance or take corrective action. Another difficulty often occurs when they feel they can provide information to their "buddy" or "buddies" before it's ready for distribution. In these situations, the new manager gets caught up in a drama that often plays out on the ground floor. A drama which causes rumour and innuendo and ends in a loss of confidence in the manager. The manager's attempt to gain trust using the “buddy-buddy” approach with former co-workers becomes a loss of trust within the leadership team or by the employer.
There are a lot of dynamics going on in the above scenario concerning managerial information sharing. Young managers often confuse the need for confidentiality and transparency, and the use of information as power. The need for confidentiality is generally clear when it pertains to individual personnel matters, but it may not be so clear when the management team (with whom the new manager is now a member) is sorting out a policy decision that may affect members of the new manager’s team and others within the organization. It is appropriate to engage team members in the generality of the policy matter to gain their insight and input (if that is required), but it must be done in a way that doesn’t lead to disruption and discontent. Nor should the new manager use the information as a source of power as in “I know something, but I can’t share it with you.” (a) The situation is further exacerbated if the policy under discussion affects the whole of the organization and other managers do not engage their team members regarding the issue. People talk to one another in organizations, and this is where rumor, innuendo and more discontent becomes rampant. Communication, judgement, discernment and strategic thinking skills are paramount in these situations.
The employee who advances to a management position makes the leap from seeing work from a micro perspective to a macro one. The employee is introduced to broader organizational systems, processes and requirements. The perspective of how things "work around here," changes. The new manager is now expected to think in terms of the "big picture" and develop strategic thinking skills.
There are several forces at work here (yes, it is work): an ability to think long term, connect the dots about activities in motion, synthesize complicated interactions both at the human and systems level, reach a stage within the decision making process that goes beyond what is initially perceived, quickly assess the impact of actions and information on the organization, be aware of the competitive environment as well as those who have an interest in the organization's outcomes, and understand not only "what" needs to be accomplished, but "why" it needs to be done. All leading to a change in perspective.
The primary focus of a manager is the development of the "other." This is a big step from focusing primarily on job specialization. One would think that the essential focus should be on growing the organization and maintaining the company line. Certainly, it is important for managers to promote growth and circle the vision, mission, values and goals of the organization. However, the question that begs to be asked is, "who actually carries out that direction?" The answer must be "everybody," but It finally rests upon those on the front lines who are the "faces" of the organization.
Managers become the conduit and coordinators through which the strategic elements are directed, communicated and controlled. And, he or she can only carry out those functions through the performance of others. So, the focus of the manager is not on himself or herself, it is on the “other”. How the manager performs these functions relate to his or her leadership and management style and the application of the different knowledge, attributes and skills mentioned above.
So, where does the art come in? As managers, we must "feel" the vibes of the workplace culture and apply our thinking, perspective, focus and skills so that the relationships among our team players and colleagues flow with energy and synergy. We become jazz artists taking the lead when necessary, supporting the cast of players as needed, coaching and mentoring performance as required, balancing pressures from above with the needs below and the needs below with the pressures above, and keeping communication, collaboration and coordination in harmony with the overall direction of the organization. Sound simple? It becomes an art form.
So, is becoming a manager just a progression from our specialized work? Or, do we need to be prepared for the role? The answer lies within us, so choose wisely.
Here is an interesting article by Emma Bruder about the same subject from an experiential point of vew: “10 hard truths about management no one tells you about”
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC
Up-dated January 9, 2018.
(a) A future article on power and power sharing will explore this topic in more detail.